Evolving regulations pose e-waste challenges

Electronics vendors struggle to keep up with toxic substance and recycling initiatives, with assists from organizations like IPC-Association Connecting Electronics Industries. Unfortunately, such initiatives are having little immediate effect, based on commentary by Leyla Acaroglu in the New York Times.

Americans replace their cellphones every 22 months, Acaroglu reports, and discarded 150 million in 2010. “In far-flung, mostly impoverished places like Agbogbloshie, Ghana; Delhi, India; and Guiyu, China, children pile e-waste into giant mountains and burn it so they can extract the metals—copper wires, gold and silver threads—inside, which they sell to recycling merchants for only a few dollars,” she writes. “In India, young boys smash computer batteries with mallets to recover cadmium, toxic flecks of which cover their hands and feet as they work. Women spend their days bent over baths of hot lead, 'cooking' circuit boards so they can remove slivers of gold inside.” The process poses serious health risks, especially to children and pregnant women.

Acaroglu offers a few suggestions—manufacturers could make cellphones easier to disassemble, for example, and could sell products with prearranged recycling services.

She cites the European Union as a model for industrial regulation with regard to recycling. In contrast, the US remains the only industrialized country that has failed to ratify the Basel Convention, which bars export or trafficking in toxic e-waste. In addition, the US Congress has failed to pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, introduced in 2011.

EU initiatives include RoHS, whose scope widened at the beginning of the year, as I reported earlier. In addition, the 2012 recast of the WEEE directive aims to ensure that 85% of e-waste is recycled by 2019.

Regulations such as RoHS and WEEE will undoubtedly change, making it difficult to keep up. IPC-Association Connecting Electronics Industries aims to help; it will hold an event titled “It’s Not Easy Being Green: Regulatory and Sustainability Update” in Cambridge, MA, June 5, 2013. That event will be held back-to-back with “IPC Conflict Minerals Update: Developing Industry Practices,” scheduled for June 4.

The “It’s Not Easy Being Green” conference on June 5 will feature Steve Andrews and Chris Smith from the UK government. EU RoHS Directive experts Andrews and Smith will share a comprehensive update on the Directive, including information on enforcement. Other conference presentations will provide critical updates on the EU REACH regulation, China’s chemical regulations, Canada’s chemicals management plan, California’s Safer Consumer Product regulation, and alternative assessment processes.

The conference will conclude with a panel discussion on voluntary sustainability initiatives. Representatives from various companies across the electronic interconnect industry will share insights into the implementation of their respective sustainability initiatives.

The conflict minerals conference will feature three panel discussions on key conflict minerals compliance issues. Due diligence panelists will explore what constitutes due diligence under the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation. A panel on data collection and management will discuss available data-collection tools and companies’ approaches to implementation. And company compliance panelists will detail efforts to develop and implement conflict minerals compliance programs. For individuals needing a more in-depth background on conflict minerals, a half-day workshop, “Conflict Minerals Workshop: A Basic Overview,” will be offered on the afternoon of June 3.

Other resources that can help you keep up with emerging regulations include websites maintained by the Premier Farnell Group. Farnell maintains a global legislation website that provides country-by-country information on how RoHS, REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), WEEE, and batteries legislation impacts companies in the electronics industry. In addition, the company's element14 website maintains an America's Electronics Legislation site that provides a state-by-state breakdown of legislation relating to hazardous substances, energy efficiency, e-waste, and related topics.

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